Printable Version
Pronunciation: pah-lê-tik Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Verb

Meaning: 1. (Adjective) Artfully prudent, sensibly judicious, subtly smart, skillfully and politely shrewd. 2. (Adjective) Scheming, crafty, unscrupulously cunning. 3. (Verb) Engage in political activity.

Notes: Today's word is particularly interesting in that it may appear after the word body. The body politic is an idiomatic legal phrase meaning "the political world" alongside body corporate "a legally incorporated organization". When using this word as a verb, don't forget to add a K before endings other than -s: politics, politicked, politicking. Finally, like public, this word, too, forms its adverb without the -al suffix required of other verbs ending on -ic: publicly, politicly.

In Play: Americans can only hope for a more politic body politic: "The body politic in the US is rather sharply divided over which direction the country should move." However, we can find many uses of this word in the sense of "subtly smart": "It wasn't very politic of Phil Anders to take the boss's wife out to a night club." The second meaning hasn't been used much lately: "Molly Spancer-Downe was the politic schemer, never impatient, always thinking about the day after tomorrow."

Word History: Today's word was borrowed from Old French politique, inherited from Latin politicus "political", which Latin borrowed from Greek poltikós. The Greek word was derived from polítes "citizen", a word based on the word for "city", polis (just like citizen). English borrowed several words based on this Greek root: police, policy, and metropolis are examples. Greek had three words with pol- as their root. The other two are polein "sell", which we see in English monopoly and poly- "many-" as in polygon "many sided figure". This Greek word shares its source with the Sanskrit word pur, puram "city, citadel" as in Singapur "city of lions", Singapore in English. Finally, we find a relative in Lithuanian pilis "castle, fortress". The semantic slippage of today's word is explained by its confusion with polite. (It would not be politic to forget to thank George Kovac for recommending today's very interesting Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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